How To Cook Pasta

Person draining spaghetti
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Cooking pasta is an art form anyone can learn; it just takes a bit of practice and knowledge. Assemble an easy sauce, and just toss with your al dente pasta. Here's how.

Difficulty: Easy

Time Required: 20 minutes

Here's How:

  1. Fill a large stockpot with water. The more water the better - pasta only sticks when it is cooked in too little water.
  2. Add salt. Salt makes pasta taste better, and won't appreciably increase the sodium level of your recipes. Use 1 teaspoon per gallon of water. At that level, 2 ounces of uncooked pasta (1 cup cooked), the FDA serving size, absorbs about 20 mg of sodium which is about 1% of the recommended daily sodium intake. That's nothing. You can certainly add more pasta; in fact, Italians say that pasta water should taste as salty as the sea.
  1. Bring the water to a rolling boil. This means a boil you can't stop by stirring.
  2. Measure the pasta you need. Pasta generally doubles in size when cooked, so 1 cup uncooked = 2 cups cooked. Refer to the recipe if necessary.
  3. Slowly add the pasta to the boiling water. Ideally, the water shouldn't stop boiling, but if that happens, it's ok.
  4. Stir and stir some more! Pasta will stick together if it isn't stirred during the crucial first moments of cooking. Don't add oil, because that will make the pasta slippery and the sauce won't stick to it when it's done.
  5. Start timing when the water returns to a boil. Most pastas cook in 8 to 12 minutes. Check the package directions! And stir every few minutes.
  6. You can regulate the heat so the pasta/water mixture doesn't foam up and over the pot sides. Lower it the tiniest bit, and everything should be under control. Or you can add a bit of butter to the pot; this reduces the surface tension of the water so it won't boil over.
  1. Really the only way to tell if the pasta is correctly cooked is to taste it. It should be 'al dente' - firm, yet tender, with a tiny core in the middle. Test it 2 minutes before the earliest cooking time stated on the box. You can't "uncook" overcooked pasta.
  2. You can also cut into a piece of pasta you've fished out of the pot. There shouldn't be any solid white in the center of the pasta - just a shading to more opaque cream color.
  1. Now drain the pasta into a colander placed into your kitchen sink. Lift the colander and shake off the excess water.
  2. Don't rinse the pastaif you're serving a hot dish. That removes the starch that helps hold the sauce. If you are making a cold salad, rinse so the salad isn't sticky. On the other hand, I never rinse my pasta for cold main dish salads, simply because I like how the hot pasta absorbs the dressing. It's up to you!
  3. Use the pasta in the recipe. Toss it into simmering sauce, mix it with a cold sauce, add to salads or use in frittatas. If any pasta is leftover, store it using this tip.


  1. By covering the pot when you bring water to a boil, you are lowering the air pressure directly over the water, making it easier to boil.
  2. Never mix pasta types in one pot. They all have different cooking times; read package directions carefully.
  3. Watch the cooking process carefully. Pasta can overcook very quickly.
  4. If the pasta is to be used in a casserole, undercook it slightly. It will finish cooking to perfection while in the oven or skillet.

What You Need:

  • stock pot
  • water
  • pasta
  • salt
  • long handled spoon
  • kitchen timer